A disproportionate chunk of health discourse is concentrated on the subject of “what” kind of food one should eat to maintain good health — and rarely on the “how” one should eat to get optimum health benefits.
However, being an avid food experimenter myself, I’ve found that the “how” component of the eating experience is crucial in deriving the maximum benefits from “what” we eat. The majority of people are not unhealthy because they’re eating the wrong food — they’re unfit because they’re not eating correctly.
Today, I share the four integral components of good eating: mindfulness, quantity, time, and gratitude. These are nothing but the application of common sense while eating.
If you make these components an integral part of your eating habit, you can become more fit and healthy regardless of your dietary preferences. Practice them daily, and you’ll start waking up afresh after having a sound and better sleep.
Allow me to explain these four components in detail.
The most critical dimension of mindful eating is attention — because the easiest way to know how much you should eat is to eat mindfully. If you are attentive enough, your body will signal you when it’s full. You just got to be sensitive enough to catch those signs. You can test the integrity of this claim by focusing entirely on the food you are eating.
Focusing on your food while you are eating means — savoring every bite, every morsel. I know it’s easier said than done, especially when we are so habituated to living in an entirely distracting environment.
Ideally, mindfulness requires you to refrain from watching television, working, or reading while eating. In an ideal world, you shouldn’t be holding any conversations, either. These are all distractions — and when you are distracted, you will eat mindlessly, which means you are either eating too quickly or slowly.
I have struggled long enough in executing this simple rule of eating. Because being a productivity junkie, I was always looking to optimize the utility of my limited time through multitasking. Therefore, catching on some news or entertainment on television while eating my breakfast or dinner never seemed to be an oddity.
But with a long history of intermittent failures under my belt, I had to keep showing lots of patience and perseverance to successfully bring the requisite discipline in my eating habits to surmount this deceptively simple-looking challenge.
If you eat mindfully by immersing yourself in the act of eating, you can rarely overeat, and the best part — you get the most from your food.
If you have any doubts, you can put this theory to the test. Just visit your favorite restaurant. Order a meal and switch off your communication devices. You will find yourself eating less than usual. This is because you are not holding a conversation while eating & your eyes and ears are not distracted by notifications on your device — you are simply focused on your meal.
Eating mindfully allows your mind to gain the most out of the food.
The second most crucial dimension of mindful eating is chewing your food well.
Chewing well not only makes it easy on your stomach; it also helps you digest the food faster and actually makes the food more nutritious.
When you chew food, the enzymes in saliva get mixed with the food. The more you chew, the more enzymes get mixed. When enzyme-rich, well-chewed food goes into your belly, your stomach processes it effortlessly. The food gets digested quickly, and the body remains free of acids and toxins.
I had a tough time chewing my food properly because of the poor habit of faster eating. Since childhood, I used to be always in a hurry to finish my plate. Eating was perceived (at least by me) to be such a waste of time. Probably the reason why people, in general, prefer multitasking when consuming their food — especially the ones who don’t wish to waste their precious time dedicated entirely to eating.
But for anyone wishing to give up their unhealthy diet, my only recommendation is to start chewing their food slowly. Anyone chewing his food well is bound to be free of most physical ailments. This I am telling you from my own experience. As soon as I began to chew my food properly, I had a conspicuous slump in the quantum of food consumed. As a result, I was not overeating anymore and started feeling light and healthy.
There is no definitive one-size-fits-all guide on how much one should eat. Ideally, one-third of your diet should be solid, one-third should be liquid, and one third should be left in the stomach for air. It is essential to leave one part for air, so there is room to churn, mix, break down, and digest the food.
Think of a washing machine that is filled to the brim with clothes. The clothes won’t wash well; you have to give them room to spin and churn. The same goes for your diet. Never eat to your maximum appetite. Always leave some space in your stomach.
According to medical science, being hungry before a meal is associated with healthier post-meal blood glucose levels. When we consume food, a combination of gastric dilatation and increasing sugar levels tell us to stop.
But when we gobble those widely advertised processed foods, by the time the brain realizes it is time to stop, we may already have eaten an excessive amount.
In my case, I could afford to devour my food without overeating because I was invariably sticking to a predetermined portion based on my appetite.
One of the remarkable qualities of wholesome foods (naturally nutritious foods) is that you cannot overeat them.
For example, you can over-drink sugary, fizzy, soft drinks, but you cannot over-drink milk. Your body knows how to break down natural foods, and it will tell you when it has had enough.
If you practice mindful eating, you learn to listen to your body much better. And your body always tells you when to stop.
Knowing when to eat is the most incredible knowledge you can have. The morning mealtime may vary from person to person depending on their routine, but it is strongly recommended to have your dinner before sunset or just around that time. I am still struggling to make this into a regular habit.
Although the consensus is to eat four hours before you go to sleep, I have managed a gap of three hours before bedtime, that too after a lot of struggle. Ideally, it would help if you ate in the evening and then go for a walk — a simple recipe for a healthy life. But then we can tell from our experience that the real world is rarely an ideal one.
Eating just before going to bed is a definite way of exacerbating the simple yet complex process of digestion. In fact, eating late or just before sleeping leads to weight gain.
This is mostly because your body secretes insulin when you eat just before sleeping, and insulin breaks down all nutrient groups –including proteins and carbohydrates –into triglycerides. Triglycerides are the primary type of fat found in the body and your diet.
Modern science validates this view by suggesting that metabolism slows towards the end of the day. Even the secretion of insulin follows a pattern called the circadian rhythm. It decreases at night and is at the lowest point between midnight and 6 a.m. when it starts to rise again before hitting a peak between midday and 6 p.m.
The practice is the name of the game here — and I mean you might have to go through the phases of many failures, but you need to keep up with the sincere effort — it becomes easy to go to bed four or five hours after your meal. Still, if you can’t fall asleep because you are hungry, you can have a light, wholesome snack, like fruit, an hour or so before going to bed.
The goal is that you should go to bed with an empty stomach. If you do that, you sleep soundly, you wake up fresh, the internal body dynamics remain in balance, you don’t feel thirsty in the middle of the night, and your sleep is uninterrupted. It is perfect for all kinds of digestive disorders.
It is prudent to eat only after the previous meal has been fully digested by the body. In other words, you should only eat when you feel hungry. If you eat the right quantity and chew it well, you’ll feel like eating something every three hours. Have a light, wholesome snack — in my case, I prefer dry fruits and cookies (my indulgence of having a sweet tooth) but only when you feel one of those hunger pangs.
This may sound out of place, but never underestimate the importance of saying grace and expressing your gratitude before starting your meal.
Right across cultures, the process of eating is considered a sacred ritual, where the body is treated as a temple. And when you eat with this sentiment, food simply cannot harm you.
From the most profound philosophical perspective, you befriend millions of micro-organisms by consuming food; they enter your body to nurture you, nourish you, and strengthen you.
I could appreciate the significance of these micro-organisms after reading “I Contain Multitudes” by Ed Young. It was fascinating to know that each species has a distinct community of microbes and has a unique way of maintaining that partnership over generations.
Here’s the simple practice: sit down at the table. Take a few deep breaths. Remind yourself that you work hard and do most things so you may enjoy a square meal. And, now that you have the meal in front of you, it’s time to savor every bite devoid of any distractions. Thank God/nature/the universe for providing you with food.
There are hundreds of millions of people on our planet who go to bed hungry every night. Remind yourself how lucky you are. Take a couple of sips of water. Pacify your body and your breathing. Just imagine that every morsel is a part of nature and that you are about to absorb this in you. Eat slowly, chewing every bite — enjoy the taste in each morsel. This doesn’t take more time; it simply takes awareness.
You may say that even the simple act of consuming food looks like a lot of work. Initially, it may look like one, but once you start reaping the benefits of this choice, you might be amazed by its profound simplicity and long-term gains.
Remember, food is an integral part of constantly supplying the body with the much-needed energy for its optimum performance. And now that you know how you eat ends up defining the quality of its absorption within your body, the onus is on you to make all the right choices.
Originally Published on Medium.